Winning Through Intimidation

The public employee unions are back in the news and the portraits painted are anything but flattering. In fact, the newspaper accounts reinforce every negative stereotype of union thugs and greedy union bosses that have been written by generations of union critics.

The first story involves Oregon’s largest public employee union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But SEIU isn’t just a public employees union. It routinely tries to organize custodial workers, hospital workers and nursing home workers. And it is one of the most politically active unions in Oregon, donating huge sums of money to Democrat candidates, providing armies of “volunteers” for Democrat campaigns and flooding the halls of the state capital with lobbyists.

The victims of these unions routinely complain of intimidation. You might remember the large men and women who shadowed initiative signature gatherers yelling at, and taking pictures of, those who would stop to sign the petitions under the guise of the Voters Information Project. These efforts ultimately proved to be unsuccessful and the VIP virtually disappeared during the last election cycle.

The SEIU’s favorite organizing tactic is the use of the so-called “card check” system. The nation’s unions have been steadily losing membership in the private sector. Employees routinely reject organizing activities in secret ballot votes that are authorized under the National Labor Relations Act. The “card check” system is a method of avoiding the secret election and allows the unions to intimidate and trick workers into signing “card checks” and thus force management to recognize the union. When you encounter one of these behemoths alone, unprotected by a crowd, unaided by a secret ballot, it is not surprising that you succumb and sign their cards. The problem with such tactics is that once the employees are free from the intimidation of the unions and are able to freely express themselves, they routinely reject representation by the unions.

This happens so frequently with SEIU that it was recently forced to sign an agreement withdrawing its claim to representation with Portland based Siltronics and to agree to refrain from using the “card check” method for organizing in Washington and Oregon for a period of six months. In this instance, it was either stipulate to the agreement or run the risk of having all of its tactics aired in a public hearing before the National Labor Relations Board.

The irony of all of this is that now that the Democrats have regained control of the Congress, they have introduced legislation to eliminate the secret elections and impose the use of the abusive “card check” system as the only means of organizing. Now you understand the payoff for the unions’ singular devotion to the Democrats.

But that isn’t the only payoff for the public employee unions. Oregon’s Supreme Court recently invalidated a decision by the Portland Public Schools to “out source” its janitorial services at substantial savings. The court, relying on their interpretation of a law from the 1930’s, overturned that decision and forced the Portland Public Schools to provide those janitorial services through public employees only. This is the legal equivalent to a “sole source” contract. It means no matter how abusive the work rules imposed by the public employee unions, no matter how expensive the cost of its wages and exorbitant benefits, the Portland Public Schools are forced to pay without the ability to contract elsewhere. You might remember that the Portland Public Schools are the ones that were required to cut school days because they lacked sufficient funds, cut education programs because the lacked funds, fire teachers because they lacked funds. And here are the public employee unions doing their very best to spray gasoline and a raging fire. (By the way, you might remember that this is the same Oregon Supreme Court that tossed out the reforms of the state’s gold plated PERS system and announced that the state legislature was not allowed to reform the abusive provision of the PERS system.

Now here comes the final irony in all of this. The decision to out source the janitorial services came during Ron Saxton’s tenure as chairman of the Portland Public Schools Board. It was a wise and prudent decision that he promised to bring to state government if elected governor. In marked contrast, Gov. Kulongoski’s administration has been routinely signing “sole source” agreements with the SEIU and other public employee unions that prohibit cost saving through out-sourcing alternatives. Now you understand the further payoff for the public employee unions’ singular devotion to the Democrats.

  • baldeagle

    How about a card check system to disolve a union?

  • eagle eye

    All very interesting but the facts are, the courts interpret the law, and the interpretations have not gone the way Larry Huss would like. Ron Saxton ran for governor and guess what happened. The only real reforms to PERS have come at the behest of Governor Ted. I hate to break the news Larry, but you’re banging your head against the wall. It’s painful to watch. Isn’t it time to try something new?

    • Ted Kennedy’s Liver

      Ted’s “reform” was a fraud. He knew the state supreme court would toss it.

      • Captain_Anon

        Yeah, i hate it when the courts uphold the law. Damn them!

      • eagle eye

        PERS was changed a lot for new hires, due almost entirely to Ted’s initiative. Say what you will about him, he has been far more effective than anyone, including most assuredly any Republican, in reforming PERS.

  • Jake W.


    You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts. Ron Saxton left the PPS board in August 2001. By spring of 2002 he was running for governor. And also, he was only chair of the Board from 1998-2000.

  • Captain_Anon

    Wait a second, why do we feel bad for PPS? The broke a contract in the middle of it and got called out. It’s illegal to break a contract. period. they got what they deserved. if it was after the contract expired, that’s one thing, but let’s get facts straight. PPS fired the janitors in the middle of thier agreed upon contract and hired an outside firm. if they wanted to switch firms, wait until the contract expired. it’s not rocket science. PPS has a history of treating thier maintenance staff very poorly. They have gone 4 years without a raise, or a cost of living adjustment (cola), so in essence, the entire staff has had salary cuts. The plumbers and other maintenance staff are currently working without a contract, and they union was prepared to vote yes on a plan that would have had members pay a considerable amount more for health care and benefits, but the offer from PPS was SO bad, they overwhelminly voted no. the board offered a package that would have put salaries lower than they were 5 years ago.

    is PPS’s financial problem because of the unions? no. they have bargained the pay freeze (AKA cuts since they get no cola), pay for health care and have taken staffing cuts to help out. but the board, who are the most dysfunctional board ever, pay out golden parachutes to thier cronies who were disasters (think Goldschmidt and his 800,000 something severence package, Standford and his 6 digit severence package etc). The district was administrator heavy for a long time and probably still is. administrators get paid way more than teachers or maintenance staff. and let’s not forget That before Ben Canada was superintendent, the schools were in top shape. after he came in, he gutted the maintenance programs for cost savings and paid the price in the disctrict now having completely delapitated buildings whose capital costs are stripping away the budget.

    Vicki phillips made some bold moves and tried to change the culture at PPS, and for that i commend her. but firing the janitors was idiotic. all the lawyers told her she couldn’t do that and she was putting the district at risk. well, they were right. she tried to close unneeded schools and the wealthy neighborhoods cried foul. and because they could afford lawyers and sue the district at a cost of hundreds of thousands and millions to taxpayers, they get to keep thier under utilized schools and waste our money.

    I wish people would not have such short term memories. the unions sometimes are hinderances to the bottom line, but not in this case. this was the case of a moronic school board (who saxton was a part of for a time) making very poor decisions. they should all be cleared out and an entirely new board put in place. one that isn’t into neopotism and hiring family members and cronies.